“Follow The Leader” – 18 January 2017

Do you remember the game ? It is more than likely that images from your childhood will come flooding back and particularly those from the school playground.

As usual, Wikipedia provides the definitive answer. It states that ‘Follow the Leader’ is a children’s game. First a leader or “head of the line” is chosen, then the children all line up behind the leader. The leader then moves around and all the children have to mimic the leader’s actions. Any players who fail to follow or do what the leader does are out of the game. Simple.

So often what we do or learn in our formative years frames our later life and this is no exception.

In all walks of life, from politics to business to education to healthcare to whatever trade or business it might be, the world needs leaders.

Sport is  no different. Every successful sports team has leaders, the very successful teams have several and all the other players have to step in line and follow. Those that don’t are cast aside.

Much is made of the importance of leaders and quite rightly so. Each sport has a different requirement for its leaders, some lead by example through their match winning performances and others through their tactical acumen.

Cricketing captains can arguably have the greatest influence on their sport and in their own way the success of the studious and thoughtful Mike Brearley contrasts beautifully with the swashbuckling brilliance of the current Indian captain Virat Kohli, yet both have been equally successful in their own individual ways.

In faster moving team sports such as rugby or football, the influence of a captain may be less obvious but no less important. In rugby union, the best teams have several leaders all over the pitch, responsible for making decisions both in attacking and defensive situations. The English rugby union side that won the World Cup in 2003 was expertly captained by Martin Johnson but the ultimate prize would not have been possible without his key lieutenants such as Leonard, Dallaglio, Hill, Back, Dawson, Wilkinson and Greenwood, adding their experience and leadership qualities all over the pitch.

Whilst it is often said that it doesn’t matter who is the captain of a football team, a football team must have leaders. Natural football leaders of our time, both inspiring their own troops and breathing fear into the opposition ranks, include the likes of Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Patrick Viera, John Terry, Tony Adams and Graham Souness, to name but a few. Where they went, they expected their players to follow. If the players didn’t, then they certainly got to know about it and were quickly discarded.

Sir Alex Ferguson created many leaders over the years in his most successful teams. In addition to the aforementioned Robson and Keane, the likes of Schmeichel, Pallister, Bruce, Stan, Irwin, the Nevilles, Scholes, Ince, Wilkins, Beckham and Hughes cannot be forgotten and it is interesting to note how many of them have taken on leadership roles in coaching or management after playing.

And what about the Rangers ?

One look at the most successful QPR teams of recent seasons shows that they were brimming with leaders. The Warnock vintage was captained by the enigmatic Adel Taarabt, which was a masterstroke by Warnock in many ways, as the supposed responsibility of wearing the armband inspired Taarabt to lead from the front with his mercurial talents and amazing goalscoring, albeit the real leaders were Hill, Derry, Kenny and Mackie, the hardened professionals who knew what it took to win football matches.

The Harry Redknapp class were led by the likes of Hill (again) but with Dunne, Barton, O’Neill, Zamora and Austin as key figures around the park, adding their voices, weight, experience and know-how to proceedings.

However, the current crop have been sadly short and lacking in this department. The skipper, Nedum Onuoha, has become captain rather by default and whilst he gives everything to the cause and is fully committed and respected, he does not appear to be a natural leader, as well liked as he maybe. He is softly spoken and he doesn’t seem to have that ability to cajole and inspire. Indeed his columns in the matchday programme are so lacklustre that they are largely hidden away so that the supporters and players do not read them. A manager and his assistants can only do so much, the players must also galvanise themselves on the pitch.

During breaks of play in the recent poor run, it would be reasonable to assume that the captain would be gathering his men around him, discussing tactics and encouraging them, but the players were mostly stood around on their own, showing a distinct lack of togetherness and crying out for some leadership.

The blame can’t be layed wholly at the feet of Onuoha for the team as a whole have been quiet and lacked natural leaders, which often is a reflection of the players’ individual insecurities and lack of confidence in their own ability and position in the team. By way of example, whilst Jake Bidwell captained Brentford previously, he has hardly said a word at Rangers, as he is still struggling to find his form and clearly hasn’t felt in any position to be dictating to others what they should be doing.

The midfield has often been filled with talented footballers such as Luongo, Chery and Cousins but none of them are particularly vocal and all the newer younger lads understandably just need to concentrate on their own games. Polter had a presence but his lack of recent games prior to his departure was certainly felt.

This leaves the newer foreign recruits such as Wszolwk, Borysiuk and Sylla , all of whom have needed more game time and work on their language skills before being able to be more influential.

So, what has changed?

It’s simple, Jamie Mackie. The man has hunger, passion and desire. He loves Rangers. The fans sing it, and he proves it. It’s in his blood, his DNA. His enthusiasm is infectious and it clearly rubs off on the others. They run harder, faster and further. They chase lost causes, they put their bodies on the line and they play with spirit.

It is no surprise that Mackie’s return has coincided with three successive wins. He lifts the players with his boundless energy and never say die attitude. He may not be the captain but he talks, encourages and inspires. He may not be the best player in the team but what he lacks in talent and ability, he makes up with heart and soul.

Holloway wants more ‘Jamie Mackies’. Joel Lynch is certainly getting there. He was made captain in Onuoha’s  recent absence and his game has visibly grown with the added responsibility of leadership. The raw excitement with which he celebrated the recent win over Ipswich showed how much it meant to him.

Holloway cares and he wants players in the same mould who care, who work their socks off and give the proverbial 110%. It was the way he played, wholehearted and committed, and as the ultimate leader of the club, he expects nothing less from his charges.

Winning football matches is often down to fine margins, especially in this division. Managers are always looking for that little bit extra to give their team an advantage and it invariably comes down to the mental approach and attitude of the players. Players need to step up and take responsibility and this is far better achieved when there are clear leaders to inspire them.

Good leaders, like Mackie, are worth their weight in gold and if all the players follow the lead of Mackie, then Rangers stand a chance.

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